Christian Hawkey’s Ships of Theseus (Dikembe Press, 2014) has reminded me that I am a formalist. I value the signifier over the signified. I get bored when a book starts and ploughs on until its inevitable end. This is why I primarily read poetry. Poets get bored faster. When books don’t question their linearity, there are less questions to be asked. My critical faculties are interested in form first and so I want formal movements. Weird indents, bizarre stanzas, cyclicality, repetition, glitches, moving blocks, materialism, textuality. Codexes that defy their inevitability by infusing language with kinetics are remarkable.
Ships of Theseus is all building blocks fit together to stabilize a random system of methodological change.
Block 1: Each page is “titled” and underneath the “title” there is a block of white space
Block 2: Beneath the white space there are fat, rectangular wordblocks
Block 3: The words in the wordblock are separated by semicolons to make phrases
Block 4: Underneath each wordblock, there is a large black, filled in square
Block 5: Beside this square, there are two phrases in [brac;kets]
The last phrase of each wordblock is the “title” of the next wordblock. So the book’s first wordblock’s last phrase
looking out; remembering; in love; can we say in; to look out
looking out; remembering; in love; can we say in; to look out; the poem
and on and on thirteen more times, until the fourteenth time when the wordblock is untitled and it is made up of the preceding fourteen “titles” and there is no bracketed statement but there is that large black square. What was an ending in now a beginning in a simple movement that moves through the book like a square wave.
The bracketed statements are made up of two phrases: the first phrase of the “title” at the top of the page, or, the first phrase of the last line of the preceding wordblock, and another phrase pulled out, I think at random, from the page’s wordblock.
The wordblock is a wordblock and not a “poem” because there are no clearly delineated poems here. Everything on the page is a poem, or the whole book is one long poem alternately revealing itself as a morphing entity and repeating itself to emphasize these changes. Everything seems to have a double or triple life or more. Nothing is singular. Words are phrases and titles and bracketed statements because most of the phrases are repeated over and over, cycled in and out as the book goes on. Traditional poetic hierarchy doesn’t exist. That hierarchy that says that a title can be a title and only that and that the title should be at the top of the poem and that the title is something specially related to the poem, etc. Things slide around. This all happens very fast. Like a computer glitch that results in a long delay that now results in images whizzing by, or images transposed onto other images, and glitchy sounds with everything trying to keep up and butt in. Hawkey’s landscape of words is intimately and necessarily linked, an idea that Derek Beaulieu rendered in Flatland.
All this is because of Theseus. The book starts with two quotes. The first is from John Dryden’s translation of Plutarch’s Life of Theseus
The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that the ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question as to things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
What is new what is old what is original what does that mean, like what do we do with all this detritus and how do we use or reuse it or not and why.